Saturday, February 28, 2009

Order With Express Shipping To Ensure Yours Arrives On Or Before Friday 13 March!

Hot - well, all right, more like lukewarm - on the heels of my post about a delightful item you can buy comes this one, with news of another replica. A choice one, and not one that you might have to be slightly bonkers to buy, oh no.

So then, the Friday the 13th Movie 2009 Jason Voorhees Machete Prop Replica. Three feet long, but don't worry, the edge is dull, so even though people may involuntarily void their bowels when they see it hung proudly over your fireplace, with its bloodstains a-glistening, you can reassure them that they're not going to get cut by it.

Mind you, they might wonder why you'd spend $189.99 on a replica machete when you could probably buy a real one for less, but that rather leads into the issue of why you might want a machete (unless it's the chap from Spy Kids and that Grindhouse trailer) in your home anyway... and that's probably a question best left unanswered, isn't it?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

This Post Contains Material Which Some Readers May Find Shocking Or Offensive

Presented for your bewilderment, a display table I saw in Waterstones on Piccadilly the other night.

Normally, I mock similarly-designed items, but having a go at these near-identical covers feels a bit like stealing sweets from a baby (though of course that's far more civilised behaviour than the subject matter of these books).

For those of you who aren't familiar with these books, which are often racked under 'Tragic Lives' or similar in bookshops, they tend to be memoirs of terrible suffering which the authors suffered in their childhood, but which are presented as being ultimately uplifting. Often they're the tales of horrific levels of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual and psychological), and thus the covers invariably feature an upset-looking child.

If I sound vague about the contents or dismissive about the marketing, that's because I haven't read any of them (though I'm told the initial books of this nature by Dave Pelzer are quite readable), and the packaging of them often ends up being unintentionally amusing to my obviously sick mind (the best example being Ma, He Sold Me For A Few Cigarettes - seriously, that's a real book; click the link and see).

As I understand it, these books are known as 'Misery-Lit' or even 'Bleakbusters', and they sell very well indeed. They're not the sort of book that I think I’d care to read, really, and there's a large part of me that worries about the fine line that one has to tread between concern about an issue such as mistreatment of others, and a slightly unhealthy and voyeuristic interest in the specifics of the mistreatment; see Apt Pupil by Stephen King for an example of an obsession with 'the gooshy stuff' taken to an extreme level (he said, loading his argument)

One thing I recently read about these books, though, is that they're 'publishing's dirty little secret' (the irony of this is, I hope, not lost on the industry); whilst the various publishers wouldn't make any claim that these were literary classics or necessarily even of great social merit, the books do sell in vast quantities, and of course this helps the publishers keep afloat during these difficult financial times - books such as those pictured effectively help subsidise the other tomes which don't speed off the shelves so quickly, but whose authors might pick up both acclaim and awards further down the line. It's the equivalent of a record label having both Seasick Steve and Coldplay on, I guess.

As I say, I'm vaguely uncomfortable about these books, and the picture of child + hand-written title + typed strapline hinting at the horrors within formula of the covers makes me prone to mock them, but I recently read something (embarrassingly, I can't remember where, but if anyone can point me towards the origin, I'll gladly link to it) which suggested that within the world of publishing itself, these books aren't exactly taken too seriously.

A number of people within publishing firms, the story goes, held a competition to make up the most archetypal and yet repellent example of a Misery-lit book title, voting for the winner. There were, I gather, a large number of entries, but the winner was, by a substantial margin, the title No, Grandad, Not On My Face.

No Somersault, So No Need To Slow This One Down And Try To Spot The Stand-In

Forget the so-called 'irony' of John Sergeant dancing badly on Strictly Come Dancing (it actually looked like he felt it was beneath him to try to improve), this is a comedy dance routine.

Respect to Mr Webb for making the effort. And filling out the outfit in such a frank fashion.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being Human Does, After All, Involve Questions and Answers

BBC Writersroom are hosting another in their ongoing series of Q&A sessions with TV and radio creators, this time with Toby Whithouse, whose most recent creation is the BBC3 series Being Human. Which is a rather good show, and if you've not seen it, you should give it a look.

It takes place at the Soho Theatre here in London Town on Wednesday 4 March, from 5pm, and you can get your name on the guest list by sending an email to, with the subject line "Toby Whithouse Q&A".

Full details of the event can be found here.

I plan on attending*, and I gather Steve 'no relation to Jenny' Colgan will be there too - what about you?

*Which is to say, I've e-mailed asking to be added to the list.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

1980s Advertising For Irn Bru Claimed It Was "Made in Scotland From Girders". Irn Bru Contains 0.002% Ammonium Ferric Citrate... Small Girders, Then.

Amidst all the cynicism and nastiness of the blog - er, I mean world, it's easy to forget that people can often be disarmingly kind. It doesn't always take much effort, or even expenditure, to be nice when you could be nasty, though that's all too often overlooked as the news media bombard you with tales of financial and social woe.

So, in the hope that it might make you feel - as I did - that the world isn't an inherently hostile place, I would urge you to read the story (and play the video) behind the picture accompanying this post; the words and moving images can both be found here.

And if you don't think it's a good thing, then I say Fie and call you a callous savage, for kindness and consideration are all that set us apart from the animals!

...Well, that and using utensils instead of our teeth to cut up our food, but you know what I mean.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Am Moving In A Manner Akin To A Fly Whose Posterior Is A Shade Towards The Violet End Of The Spectrum, Frankly

Insanely busy today, so on the basis that a pretty picture may be worth more than a thousand words (especially when they're words from me), I thought I'd share this; Les Escaliers De Montmartre by Brassai (no relation to the Chris Morris programme, as far as I know).

I have a copy of this picture hanging in the lounge chez nous, and it proves Keats right - a thing of beauty is indeed a joy forever. Just looking at it makes me feel somehow better inside.

And much to my delight, if you visit Montmartre (which is in, I almost forgot to mention, Paris), the same stairs can still be seen... but no, they're not the ones at the end of The Exorcist.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This Is, Of Course, The Best Place For Full Coverage Of The Oscars

You know, I'd probably apologise for the terrible pun if I wasn't so appallingly proud of it.

Oh, don't give me that look, you wish you'd thought of it first.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It Was The Best Of Timing, It Was The Worst Of Timing

By way of a more upbeat contrast with my post from last week about a film which is being released at an unfortunate time given its subject matter, I thought I ought to show we're not all negative here at John Soanes.

This poster, then, is for a film called The International, which is a thriller about a corrupt banking institution, based on the real-life BCCI banking scandal of the early 1990s. Whilst it's been over a decade since the scandal in question, the release of this film strikes me as particularly timely - I reckon audiences will currently be more than willing to believe the worst of banking institutions.

Good timing, I'd say.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Asking For Tech Advice = Asking For Trouble? Let's Find Out...

So, the thing is : my current mobile phone (pictured) (all right, mine's actually a Motorola Razr) is starting to show its age, with scratches and scars and the like, and I think it's beginning to exhibit reluctance to charge properly as well.

I am, then, wondering if any of you good people can recommend me a new phone/contract which will enable me to keep my current number, and which also involves the following:

- Clamshell design
- Black for preference, silver as an alternative
- Camera (nothing too fancy)
- No mp3 or other music playback, or WAP stuff (I have other devices which do this)
- Vibrate function on the phone
- Triband or above (I'm a globetrotter, remember)

… as well as the ability to, yes, make calls and send text messages.

Anyone got any suggestions? I'm on a contract which I can end with a month's notice, and for which I get 300 minutes and 300 texts for £15. I'm not too worried about being tied to a new contract (for, say, a year) if it's a decent phone/service, but I'm not looking to spend much, if any, more than I currently do (which would, I think, immediately exclude G1, Storm or iPhones as possibilities, as lovely as I'm sure they are). It may be that I'd be better off buying a new phone and transferring the SIM card into it, and I'm open to that idea as well.

Your suggestions, as ever, are welcomed...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New In Town, You Say? Watch Out For The Chap Loitering Behind You Then, He May Be A Local Reprobate

There then, the promotional poster for the film New In Town - well, I couldn't actually find the UK version online for some reason, but this is pretty much it (just imagine a portrait format version of the right-hand side, with a different release date, and that's about it).

This poster (and side-of-bus versions of it) is currently very visible all over London, and I presume other locations; it rather caught my eye because it seems to be a perfect example of a film poster telling you what the film's going to be about. At first, this made me roll my eyes, but on reflection, I'm vaguely impressed by it. I shall explain why.

I knew nothing about the film when I first saw the poster, but from the details on it, I was able to reach a number of conclusions about the general nature of the film - and this isn't some kind of brag about my deductive skills, I think pretty much anyone could reach the same conclusions from the image.

So, the title lets us know she's new in town, and from the looks of the snow and her clothes she's not used to that kind of weather, whilst the lurking man in more suitable attire suggests a local resident, and probable love interest. The general look of the poster - the colours and their expressions - suggests a rom-com, so I guessed that we're looking at a fish out of water story of a woman who finds herself in a small town for whatever reason and eventually finds love there and so on (and m'wife pointed out the posh luggage, which suggests she may be used to the finer things in life but have to get used to a snowbound location or whatever).

Those were our guesses, then, and they're pretty much right, apart from my thought that she might have been stranded there because of transport trouble (as in Just Friends) - it turns out she's posted there by her employers. So the poster had done a good job of conveying the overall theme - and I'm kind of impressed by that, as a lot of poster ads seem not to make much sense unless you've seen the accompanying TV or film spots as well.

However, having concluded this, I rather rolled my eyes, as this sounds like a film which we've seen many times before, and which I can certainly do without seeing again. I was reminded of Jonathan Ross on Room 101, when he said he didn't want to see any more underdog films, as he'd seen that story so many times before.

True, we live at a stage in human history where we probably have access to a greater amount of culture and information than ever before, and that means that if I want to watch a film from 1951 featuring some plucky underdog, I can probably find it on TV or DVD, and go ahead and watch it, without the studios really needing to continue to make such films. I've seen a fair few of these films at the cinema, and like Ross I've probably seen enough of them to be going on with (and I'm not a paid film reviewer), but there's clearly still an audience for those films, as much as I've probably had enough of them. There are, no doubt, people watching underdog films at the cinema now who weren't even born when, say, Rocky was released.

And so, in much the same way, there seems to be an audience for films like New In Town - people less jaded and aged than I who want to see something light and amusing; it looks like a pretty archetypal 'date movie', and there are always people going out on dates, after all. So, having thought 'oh no, not another film like that' at first, I now find myself thinking 'actually, there's an audience for that, and the poster probably does a pretty good job of making it clear what it's about, to that audience'.

Who would have thought that an advertising poster would have made me think so much? Not I (then again, I'm always surprised when anything makes me think at all).

Mind you, I'm not going to be plonking down the hard-earned to actually see the film, so in its main aim, I guess the advert has totally failed.

The Triumphant Return Of Stray Thoughts

1. I have to admit to being faintly disappointed at the stripped-down nature of Duffy's cover of Live And Let Die on the Heroes album, but I nonetheless urge you to buy it. It's for an incredibly good cause, and her version corrects the irksome overuse of prepositions in the line "but in this ever-changing world in which we live in".

2. I would have embedded this bit of video as I think it's amusing, but it features language which might not be suitable for public places (and I know some of you read this blog whilst at work), so instead I offer it as a link. Contains strong language, but it makes me smile. Some of you may have seen it already, as I gather Mr Fry recently shared it on Twitter, but for those of us who don't tweet…

3. Speaking of such things, Fry's recent Meet The Author podcast (free to download via iTunes) contains, amongst many other comments to enjoy, the best argument I've yet heard for using Twitter. Streets ahead of the 'you must' or 'everyone else is' stuff I've heard. I won't repeat it here as I doubt I could do it justice, and anyway you'll benefit from listening to the whole thing. Worth your time.

4. I can't make it, but if you're of an energetic and charitable nature, this looks rather fun…

5. I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of the music of Jim Steinman, so I was rather disappointed that the rather lightweight boyband Westlife recently covered his song Total Eclipse Of The Heart. Mind you, I was even more disappointed to hear that Steinman had done a remix of their version of the song, which the record company then decided not to release. I appreciate that he's 'work for hire' in that situation, but if anyone should know how to do a version of that song, you'd think it might be the chap who wrote it.
Anyway, the song's never been properly released, which means that there's no legitimate way of getting hold of it… but then again, as we all know, there's often more than one way to rip a track.

Hmm, a slightly link-heavy post today, I suddenly realise. Still, I like to share the fun stuff around if I can...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Russell T Davies At BAFTA

No, I'm not talking about nominations for awards - on Tuesday 17 March at 6.45pm, he'll be in conversation.

The talk takes place at the Princess Anne Theatre, 195 Piccadilly in London, and is going to cover his work in Children's TV, and his feelings about the audience and future of that section of programming.

It sounds pretty interesting, and he's a man who knows about TV which appeals to all generations, so I'd say his opinions are worth listening to. If you want to book tickets (which are free for BAFTA members, and £10 for the rest of us), you can do so here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One Of The Worst Valentine's Dinner Dates In The History Of Humankind

Despite the cynicism and world-weariness which hangs over this blog like a sea mist, I am in fact a romantic and chipper chap. And unlike sitcom husbands and the men in advertland, I actually remember things like birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, and try to treat m'laydee whenever I can.

So please remember this when I tell you about our night out on Saturday, though do bear in mind the title of this post, and my little warning right here and now that this story probably isn't going to go the way you expect; the night certainly took a turn I hadn't anticipated, I have to say.

Anyway, the tale. Both Mrs Soanes and I are, for a number of reasons, admirers of Oscar Wilde, and so I booked us to stay at the Cadogan Hotel. Oscar Wilde used to stay in this hotel, and indeed it was in room 118 that he was arrested, as rendered into poetry by Sir John Betjeman. The picture accompanying this post is of the door of Room 118 in the Cadogan, a snap taken by Mrs Soanes (embiggen it to see Oscar's almost-hidden face). After booking into the hotel, we would make our way to Kettners Restaurant, where Wilde and his chums used to dine. Well, that was the plan, anyway.

We checked into the (very swish) hotel as planned, and changed clothes before hailing a cab and heading off into London's glittering West End. As the night drew in and the neon of the city shone all around, I suddenly realised that there was a dead patch in my vision, a sure sign that I was getting a migraine headache. I hoped it wasn't the case, but it was all too clear that I was on the road to partial blindness, nausea and all the fun that a migraine has to offer, and so I said as much to Mrs Soanes, who's as tolerant of my infirmities as she is of my personality defects, and we had the cab driver turn around and take us back to the hotel.

Once a migraine strikes, the best thing for me to do is to lie in the dark until the shimmering-metallic-vision-distortion passes, and thankfully it did so relatively quickly, leaving me feeling a bit bruised but still game for dinner (in fact, as usual after a migraine, I was ravenous once the worst had passed). My lovely spouse was, of course, still owed a dinner, so we went to Langtry's restaurant - next door to the Cadogan, and named after Lillie Langtry, who used to live at that address (and a friend of Oscar Wilde, to boot).

They were kind enough to fit us in with mere minutes' notice, and after we'd sat down and ordered some drinks, another couple was led to the table next to ours.
"Can I sit in this chair?" said the woman to her companion.
"No," he said brusquely. "I want to sit there."
And so she sat in the other chair, and looked unhappy about it for a few minutes before saying as much. This, though, was not the bad dinner date of which I wish to speak (after, granted, much build-up). This couple asked to be moved, and they were taken to another table. In a way, their rather odd interaction turned out to be the warm-up act for a couple who took their seats at the table, and as time went on, appeared to be the exact opposite of what a date should be.

I'm not going to describe them physically, save to say that he was a fair chunk of years older than his date, which rather uncharitably led me to wonder if there was... let's call it 'a transactional element' to them spending time together. I don't know if they hadn't met before, barely knew each other from work or similar, or perhaps had never communicated except via IM or e-mail, but frankly they really didn't seem to be suited to spending any time together, let alone a Valentine's Day dinner.

As this post (and so many others) makes tediously obvious, finding words is not really a challenge for me, and the same can honestly be said for my lovely wife, whose articulacy and readiness with a quip or bon mot is never in doubt. I appreciate that not everyone necessarily feels able to just talk and talk (and, yes, talk) the same way as us, but the behaviour at the table next to ours seemed to stem less from a sense of awkwardness and unfamiliarity, and more from ... well, frankly, borderline contempt. The highlights of the evening's hostilities included:

- He started to twiddle the stem of his wine glass between thumb and index finger, making the base of the glass rotate on the table.
She (sharply): What are you doing?
He (stopping): Nothing.

- She sat back with her arms crossed, staring through the table. He resorted to reading the label on the bottle of mineral water.

- She asked if, instead of the dessert wine which was served as part of the set menu, she could have a glass of champagne. The waiter said yes, and went to get the champagne.
"That's not part of the set menu," said her date.
"But I don't like the dessert wine," she replied.
"I'll have to pay extra!" he said, and then sat - I kid you not - with his head in his hands for a couple of minutes.

- An awkward discussion as to whether the set menu price would include the optional 12.5% service charge. Swiftly followed by a brief chat about which credit cards the restaurant accepted. He hoped that they accepted American Express, but was worried that they might not.

- The waiter asked if she'd prefer red or white wine.
"White - I don't drink red wine!" she replied, with more assertiveness than strictly necessary.
This was, in all honesty, one of a number of examples of both of them making the waiter and manager feel as if the food or service was substandard (it wasn't).

- Silences. Yawning crevasses of silence, during which time they stared at the walls, curtains, crockery and cutlery.

As we left, I made a point of thanking the waiter for being so accommodating (not only had they taken us in at short notice, they'd provided tasty veggie options for me), slightly louder than necessary, because whilst there's definitely such a thing as bad service, it's also possible to be a difficult customer, and these two were certainly doing this - to my mind, they were redirecting their hostility and awkwardness towards the staff, and without any justification. The saying goes 'if the person you're with is nice to you, but rude to the staff, chances are they're not a nice person', and that applied to this couple, I fear.

For the record, my delightful companion and I chatted quite cheerfully during the course of our meal, and the food was very good - I wouldn't want you to think that we also sat in silence, watching and listening to our neighbours' every move; we didn't, but it was faintly off-putting to be so close to what looked like a very bad night out. 'There but for the grace...' and all that.

We left before they received their bill, so I don't know how much fun that involved - I have a horrible suspicion there may have been some objections about items which they'd been charged for and a possible hooh-hah about the method of payment - but as we went, I realised how insanely lucky I am; not just to be married to a remarkable woman, but also, on a simple level, to generally not find myself in social situations where I genuinely feel I have nothing to say.

I've never classed myself as some kind of smooth-talkin' Casanova, but the one simple rule I've always clung to when conversation appeared to be on the brink of dying is this: ask open questions. What did you do today? What do you do for a living? Do you like it? Do you get on with your family? How long have you lived in [wherever]? Do you like it? Why [not]? Did you like school? Have you travelled much? And so on.

It's not that people - as the cynics aver - are always hyperkeen to talk about themselves, but it's a subject they know about, and in their answers you not only tend to find more possible questions and conversation topics, but also possible points of connection between you. And if it's a date, and at the end of it either or both of you decide that it's the end of it, well, at least you had a chat.

Unlike the couple I observed on Saturday night - granted, for all I know, they might have gone to a hotel room and made sweet love until dawn. Which is fine, but they're probably better off sticking to the sweet lovin' instead of dining at restaurants. One should, after all, always play to one's strengths.

In conclusion, surely conversation should be a two-way thing: to paraphrase the immortal words of the sadly-all-too-mortal Mr Wilde, "the only thing worse than not being talked to is not being listened to".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What Kind Of World Do We Live In?

What kind of a world do we live in where a major electronics corporation makes it possible for people to invite their friends round for a "wii sports party"? The barbarians are at the gates, I swear.

Actually, that juvenile homonym pales in comparison to the revelation that a well-known maker of electrical goods has branched out into a very specific area of the marketplace - see here. Shocking.

And please, don't ask how I know about that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

From My Valentine's Day Postbag

Well, it's 14 February, the day devoted to Saint Valentine, the patron saint of greetings cards, ah ha ha, and I thought I'd share a couple of romantic and charming nuggets from my virtual postbag.

Firstly, there's always the question of what to eat on a romantic occasion - so I was very relieved to receive this, which rather charmingly puts a price on love - it's 25% over £25, apparently. Oh, you shouldn't have.

And then on such an occasion, one's thoughts turn to what to do by way of demonstrating your affection. I had no ideas, so I was thankful to be sent this. The first film listed wasn't quite what I was after - a love triangle doesn't speak of undying affection - but the second film down, well, now that's what I call romantic! Looks like a bit of a chick-flick, obviously, but I'd be willing to endure it. That's the kind of sensitive, giving chap I am.

May your postbag, real or virtual, contain whatever you may wish today. If that means cards and whatnot, all well and good, but if it means nothing at all or even letters from the bank or relatives, then I hope that happens for you too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

For One Day, And One Day Only

I haven't watched 24 since a few episodes into Day Two (when Kim got trapped in the bunker with a bloke who said WWIII had started, like that scene in Grease 2, I made my excuses and left), but a thought occurred to me this week.

And that thought became a half-formed pitch, and then my limited MS Paint skills were brought into play.

So, the pitch is this: since each series of 24 takes place during one day, why not pick a day (and a location) which pretty much guarantees that Jack Bauer will have a, let's say, lively day? One with a cross-over aspect to increase market synergies, yes?

Ladies and gents, I suggest to you :

Friday the 13th Part 24.

Those of you who have Photoshop skills, feel free to design a logo. I'll mention you in the 'Special Thanks To' list of names at the end of the credits.

Admit it, you'd pay to watch it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Are We Living In A World Where Sex And Horror Are The New Gods?*

I received an e-mail today from Creative Screenwriting magazine, which talked about how the box office for 2009 (so far) was 18% up on 2008.

It then went on to say:

"People Are Flocking To The Movies, Recession and All...

And that means the demand for scripts will grow. This is not really a surprise. Movies and TV tend to be counter-cyclical, in economic terms: When people are out of work, when people feel bad, they escape to the place where they can forget their worries.

It's Your Job To Help Them Forget Those Worries"

An echo of my comment yesterday, perhaps, but what amused me most was the rallying nature of it: there's an economic and emotional depression on, and people will need entertainment to smile their way out of it. Only the writers can bring joy to a joyless world!

Thinking about it, I guess entertainment is like the sigh of an oppressed creature, or the heart of a world with no heart - in much the same way as it's the soul of a soulless situation. In a way, for many people it's a kind of drug, like opium.

Oh, hang on, that's religion, isn't it? Ah well.

Anyway, I must away and write! It's my duty to help my fellow beings forget their worries!

*Frankie Say: so, in Two Tribes, so maybe we are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bad Timing (No, Not That Film)

Opening here in Blighty next week, then, is the film Confessions Of A Shopaholic, based on the novel by Sophie Kinsella.

Given the current economic climate, though, I can't really think of worse timing for a film to be released... well, maybe Rambo III just tops it, but I'm sure you know what I mean. In fact, I seem to recall that they've re-shot the film's ending to make it more acceptable in the current climate (then again, it's co-written by Tim Firth, who's not so shabby with words).

It's often said that cinemas see a surge in attendance in times of depression or struggle, as people seek a bit of an escape from the realities of life; I'll be interested to see if the Shopaholic film does well or not, as it seems to me that it may present a semi-escape, albeit one which is not so much rooted in reality but more a certain aspect of financial reality which may - for many people - be just starting to bite...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Entirely True : Overheard At Work Mere Minutes Ago

Colleague of mine on the phone: "Oh, hello, I gather you've got my wife's merkin..."

A couple of us exchanged confused looks, and when he came off the phone, he explained he'd been calling the local garage.


Monday, February 09, 2009

BAFTA Winners 2009 Announced

As you've probably seen by now, the BAFTAs were dished out last night - the complete list of winners is available on the BAFTA website.

Although I haven't seen as many of the films as I'd like to have (yet), it strikes me as a pretty good mix of titles, and I can imagine it's a particularly cheering night for the folks behind Slumdog Millionaire, as it looked for a while as if it was going to be a straight-to-DVD release; instead of heading immediately for the shelf, it now has a shelfload of awards, which must be even more satisfying for them.

And in what I think is rather unfortunate timing, the Grammy Awards were also handed out last night. These cover the period October 2007 - September 2008, which kind of explains why I was looking at some of the nominations and thinking 'isn't that a bit old to be in the running for an award?'

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dead Man Talking

For those of you who aren't familiar with the work of the late comedian Bill Hicks, I urge you to search his stuff out; it's arguably been elevated to an over-high level because he died prematurely, but he often makes very good political or philosophical points (which frequently still ring true today), and some very good jokes.

For those of you who know of his work and career and rate him very highly, as I do and I know Mr Peel does (and for the record we did so before his untimely demise; neither of us is overkeen on leaping onto wagons full of band), then you'll know that in 1993, less than a year before his death, Mr Hicks performed on The David Letterman Show. His segment went down well with the audience, but was cut before broadcast because... well, it appears that Letterman and others at the network were concerned that some of the jokes about pro-life groups would offend, especially as just such a group was advertising in one of the show's commercial breaks.

Hicks was very upset about this, as he'd considered Letterman a friend, and being bounced at short notice for a routine which had been approved in advance annoyed him a lot. I'm summarising here, of course - for a very thorough report, written at the time, see John Lahr's New Yorker article here.

Anyway, in a pretty surprising and unexpected turn of events, last week Letterman not only aired the never-before-seen material, but also invited Mary Hicks, Bill's mother, onto the show, and talked about it with her. And, perhaps most importantly, he apologised for the decision and the upset it might have caused. It's easy to question his motives, but whether they're pure or not, Letterman's apology appeared to be accepted by Mrs Hicks, and of course comedy fans get to see this notoriously unseen material. So, assuming my techie skills are up to the job, in three chunks, here's the show in question (I recommend watching parts 1 and 2 for context, but if you can't wait, the 'lost' stand-up routine is in part 3):

As I say, it's easy to question Letterman's motives for doing this, but Mrs Hicks accepted his apology, and so it seems inappropriate for others to be angry on her behalf; it's insulting to her judgment to do so, really. The 'lost routine' is nothing that I haven't seen or heard elsewhere on one of his live films or CDs, but it's interesting to see an item which caused such a fuss at the time, and in all honesty I never thought it would be aired, so it's an unexpected treat.

Which, of course, I wanted to share with you lovely folks.

High School Musical 4, Really

Following the - initially surprising - success of the made-for-TV films in the High School Musical series, Disney appears to be trying to capture that lightning in a bottle once again.

Hence Camp Rock, the asking-for-troublesome-titled film featuring the Jonas Brothers, beat musicians who are popular with ladies of a certain age.

But surely, given its title, it should have featured The Darkness?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Reduction Of The Snark

Normally in these posts where I point to items that look or are named in a similar fashion, I make some critical remarks... not this time, though, as I can recommend both of these books for useful tips on the craft of writing (specifically writing novels).

Cripes! To paraphrase the story about Mike and Bernie Winters, "there's three of them"! (Can't vouch for this third one, mind).

Friday, February 06, 2009

As This Post Demonstrates, 140 Characters Would Not Be Remotely Sufficient To Contain Me

I suspect it's part of the would-be contrarian streak in me, the part that likes to think it's pointing out the nudity when everyone else is admiring the cut of his majesty's new threads, but I tend not to get into things as quickly as other folks.

An example of this was my reaction to the film Pulp Fiction - at the time, everyone was raving about it so much that I actively waited until the attendant fuss had died down before seeing it. I have an almost instinctive mistrust of the 'general opinion' - possibly born of often feeling on the fringes of things at school and college - as well as a tendency to like things with some degree of longevity; I once blew a job interview with a well-known music retailer (at a time when I needed an income) by carelessly stating that I liked music by bands who had at least two albums in them "and not these horribly disposable and interchangable musicians who are here for a couple of singles, there's a big fuss about them, and then they're gone" (into that category I rather feel that Katy Perry may fall, and Lady Gaga too, but time will tell).

In all honesty, I think it's because I don't like to say things which I don't mean, whether deliberately or not; returning to Pulp Fiction for another example, it was voted greatest film of all time in a 1996 Empire film poll, a mere two years after it was made, which struck me as recent memory playing a large part in the voting (and indeed, a decade later, it was no longer top of that poll, having been usurped by … er, another film from 1994 [The Shawshank Redemption]). And on a personal level that kind of thing tends to mean a slightly embarrassed admission that "maybe I was getting kinda carried away with things, caught up".

That's kind of normal on a personal level, though the more public one is in the initial proclamation, the more embarrassing the semi-retraction. Obviously, there are a lot of public figures who've found themselves in this sort of situation over the years (though politicians increasingly seem not to bother with this sort of thing, but that's probably right as they make fewer, and less important, mistakes than the rest of us), and indeed there are some in the spotlight even as I type.

All of which is my typically verbose run-up to explaining why I won't be joining Twitter in any kind of hurry. A couple of friends have urged me to join it with some zeal, and whilst I can see they're enjoying it, and the service is clearly breaking through into the mainstream at the moment, I don't see myself signing up in the immediate future. Maybe I'll think about it once the fuss has died down and if all the people who I'd like to communicate with or 'follow' are still members in a year or so, but given how many people who urged me to join Facebook are no longer participants in it, I do wonder what proportion of my friends who are current Twitterers will be as active this time next year.

For those of you who are keen and eager for me to join, then, it looks as if disappointment awaits. If it's any consolation, much of my scepticism comes from two people of my acquaintance whose Facebook exploits very much coloured my opinion of such matters (and if you wonder why I compare Twitter so much with Facebook, well, isn't it just the Facebook status line? I think it is…). Let's call them persons one and two…

Person One told me that I had to join Facebook, and that if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to contact her in any other way. No e-mails or anything like that, it had to be Facebook or nothing. Oddly dogmatic, as if she was on commission or something, and rather undermined by the fact that friends who do have Facebook accounts say that despite them sending her messages via that method, she still doesn't respond for months at a time. Hmm, not the best advert.

Person Two, I have to say, is someone whose Status Updates are works of inadvertent comedy genius, in that they're the very worst kind of information about her life. If she's not posting cryptic comments such as 'ah well, it'll be okay' which are presumably designed to elicit queries as to what she means, she's posting the most insanely mundane items. The other week stated that she was 'eating Weetabix', which remained current for about ten hours, suggesting either a large bowl or a small spoon - or both. I'm painfully aware that many of my blog entries (certainly including this one) venture into self-absorption and the sharing of trivial minutiae, and I really don't think I - or the world at large - would benefit from me having a new method of telling you what unimportant nonsense I'm up to.

Anyway, all of the above justification-stuff may have the tinge of the negative about it, so by way of trying to leave things on a more jolly note, I would politely point you towards the picture at the top of this post, which I think is a rather good gag on this matter, and also towards the silly reports about the way the musicmaker Calvin Harris has been known to update his status on Twitter. Quite similar to Person Two referred to above, I fear, though I think his tongue may be planted in his tweet, as it were...

I'm not ruling Twitter out forever, but at the moment? Nah. A quick search for my name on t'internet turns up my e-mail address if you want to get in contact with me, and those of you who have the number of my mobile phone (something else I resisted for a long time, incidentally) will be all too familiar with my gramatically-perfect text messages. For the time being, the world will have to content itself with these means of communication.

And some might say - with good reason - that it's more than enough.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Yes, I Fully Intend To Write The Theme Tune, And To Perform The Aforementioned Theme Tune. What Of It?

So, Minder returned to British TV last night. The original cast is long gone, to be replaced by some members of the Frat Pack or ex-cast members of Skins… well, by Shane Richie and another chap, anyway.

The thing is, Richie doesn't play Arthur Daley, the character memorably 'minded' by two different bodyguards in the original run of the series, he plays Archie Daley, Arthur's nephew. Fair enough, but back in the tail-end of the original series, when Arthur's minder Terry left for Australia, his new bodyguard was his nephew, Ray Daley.

So Arthur's got two nephews, both surnamed Daley. Presumably they're both sons of the same father - Arthur's brother, who asked him to take Ray on as his replacement minder. But if we're to assume that both Ray and Archie are about the same age as the actors portraying them, they're both the same age, as both Gary Webster and Shane Richie were born in 1964. And if they have the same father, they may well be twins (or perhaps have a very tired mother).

So why would Arthur's brother ask him to take on one son as his minder, but not the other? Archie, it seems, takes after his uncle, so perhaps it was felt that he would be best kept away from him lest he should become too much of a sheepskin-wearing wideboy of the playground, but if Arthur was frowned upon as a potential bad influence upon Archie, that wouldn't sit well with him being asked to take on Ray, would it ? And if they're brothers, perhaps twins but even if not raised in the same environment, they're bewilderingly different in demeanour.

If they're not brothers, of course, that would explain how different they are in temperament, but having two brothers suggests a fairly extensive family background for Arthur, and this was something which wasn't exploited to much effect in the original series, as far as I recall. There was, I seem to remember, a book recounting Arthur's life (ah, here it is) - does anyone know if there was any reference to his family tree in it?

I'll be honest with you, I didn't watch the opening episode of 'New Minder' last night, as I wasn't a huge fan of the original series, and the trailers made it look a bit too much like the Lock, Stock And… TV series* for my tastes.

But as one who takes a keen interest in narrative continuity and internal consistency, if any of you good folks watched it, can you let me know if they did anything at all to deal with this issue? To diehard followers of the show in the past, the continuity errors could be deeply troubling, and distract from their enjoyment of the show, and it'd be nice if there'd been a little throwaway reference to the family background as a sort of tip of the hat to the fans.

On the other hand, the above might just be a sarcastic dig at the exhumation of a once-popular show in a form which bears only scant similarity to its namesake, as opposed to, well, coming up with something original.

*Oh yes, I still remember that. Mr Ritchie (another one!), and its sponsors The Sun would rather it was dust and forgot, but I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

By Naming Things, We Often Come To Believe We Understand Them. Let Us, Then, Understand This Our Today

To me, it seems painfully obvious that what this world needs now is not love sweet love, but instead something much more important : a name for the time in which we're living.

It’s a time of great economic, political and social uncertainty, and what's more the weather's cold and snow is getting in the way. During the similar period in the 1970s, some bright spark called it the 'Winter of Discontent' (quoting Shaky, no less), and summed it all up in a mere handful of words - genius, and that's why the phrase is still used even today to describe that era. Not as often as '-gate' is slapped on the end of a situation by lazy journalists, sure, but that happens more often than most of us blink, so the comparison's probably unfair.

Anyway, before the last of the snow melts on this sceptr'd isle (see what I did there?), I think it's time that we tried to capture the zeitgeist, and have a quick round of Name That Time.

I invite your suggestions, but in the meantime, here are mine:

- The Even Greater Depression
- The Big Freeze
- The Bank Nationalisation Programme
- The Winter We Most Needed Woolies
- Boys (And Girls) In The Brown Stuff
- I'm Ready For My Foreclosure
- At Last The 1929 Show
- The Day I Swapped My Mortgage For Two Goldfish

Think my suggestions are garbage? That you can do better? Then please leave your suggestions using the Comment facility!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

But... Whuh... Huh?

If you ignore the fact that the report returns to the Ross-Brand-Sachs issue like a dog to its own vomit, I think there's a fair amount of amusement to be had in this story.

I think the phrase "[t]he BNP is technically an ethnic group" may be one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Certainly brought a smile to my face (such as it is).

Monday, February 02, 2009

"London, This Is Snow. Snow, Meet London."

As everyone else has already pointed out, yes, it's snowing in London today.

And I couldn't get to work... but it's not all bad, as the accompanying pictures show (the better photo was taken by Mrs Wife).

Looks like we'll be going to the park soon, so may have more to share later ... oh lordy, this blog post is dangerously close to becoming a Facebook status update, now, isn't it? Still, I comfort myself with the fact that, twice when I tried to type it, I accidentally typed 'Faecebook'...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Even By My Standards, This Is Wilfully Obscure

I'm probably showing both my age and my strange cultural exposure here, but what the heck...

Barry Mooncult of short-lived 'baggy' beat group Flowered Up, and a chap advertising Be Internet

Separated at birth? Or both customers of the same horticulturally-influenced tailor? You be the judge.